It feels like just yesterday locals were sipping their favorite craft beers and cocktails at The Radio Bar’s happy hour or ordering mimosas at Olive or Twist’s brunch. But this spring, the COVID-19 shutdown changed everything for the Baton Rouge bar scene. Doors closed, bartenders and servers were laid off, and regular customers were homebound indefinitely.
“Most of my friends are in the service industry, and we’re all pretty much in the same exact boat: None of us are able to work,” Smiling Dog bartender Briel Edmonds says. “Without businesses having any income, they’re unable to complete payroll. So like most people, I applied for unemployment and am hoping for the best.”
At George’s Place, assistant manager Jeremy Longmire says, “We had to basically let all of our employees go. We gave them the option to still get regular pay with no tips, but bartenders don’t make that much. So most of our bartenders [chose] to go the unemployment route.”
Though times are tough, it’s not all doom and gloom in the Capital Region. Some Baton Rouge bars that also serve food, such as MID Tap and Mid City Beer Garden, are using this time to give back to local health facilities and their staff with fundraising events. Other bars are using online platforms to raise money for their crews, creating Facebook fundraisers, GoFundMe pages and a virtual tip jar system that lets people “tip” servers and bartenders through platforms like Venmo.
Every bar is affected differently by the shutdown, but one thing remains the same: Each seems to have optimism for the future.
Read on for what several local bar owners and managers had to say in early April about the crisis. And click here to read 225‘s May 2020 cover story all about how the restaurant industry has survived the COVID-19 shutdown.